Wednesday, September 08, 2010

Five Steps to Inking Digital Animation with Adobe Illustrator

Why use Illustrator to create Flash animation?

Adobe Flash works well for producing animation but it's awkward paint tools make computer animation more challenging than it needs to be. With scanned drawings and Adobe Illustrator's tracing tool digital inking is a breeze.

What you'll Need

Pencil and eraser
Ink pen (or india ink and a brush)
Light box
Scanner (A sheet feeding scanner is a huge time saver)
Computer running Adobe Illustrator and Flash (CS3 or later)

1. Sketch your artwork
Rough pencils will serve as a guide for inking. Tighten your drawings as much as you like In this example I've created a simple 14 frame walk cycle based on a doodle of a Montauk monster. Registration marks will help lining up the drawings in the computer.

2. Ink the drawings on a light table.
India ink and a brush work well for getting a fluid line, but use whatever pen you like best.

3. Scan your inked drawings.
Grayscale JPGs or TIFFs are ideal. Adjust the contrast so that the background is blown out white and the blacks are saturated. Be sure to name the files sequentially for example: "monster_01.jpg, monster_02.jpg…"

4. Convert the drawing to vector art in Illustrator.
Create a new Illustrator document with the art board sized to the dimensions of your finished animation. Import your first image by dragging it from the finder onto the art board.

-With the artwork selected choose Live Trace from the floating palette. (Object > Live Trace)
Select the tracing options. (Object > Live Trace > Tracing Options…)

-Make adjustments to the Tracing Options until you get the results you like. You may need to blur the image slightly to soften the edges or remove stray artifacts. Be sure to check Ignore White in the Trace Settings. Instead of Trace, Save Preset… to save these settings for the rest of your images. Then Trace.

-Next choose Expand from the floating palette. Your drawing is now an Adobe Illustrator vector object. Now you can tweak any stray points in the line work just as you would any Illustrator object.

-Repeat the process above using your preset tracing options for the remainder of your inked drawings. Keep each drawing on it's own layer.

-With your art selected use the Live Paint paint bucket to color your inked artwork. (Command K, ) choosing colors with the CMYK color slider. Save out your color swatches to quickly color the subsequent frames.

5. Import to Flash
Open your project and Choose File > Import to Library.
-Flash recognizes the layered Illustrator files. Select Convert Layers to Keyframes and enter OK.
-The Illustrator file has been converted to a movie clip. Each layer is now on it's own keyframe. If you prefer using Flash's paint bucket tool to Illustrator's just import the line art from Illustrator. It's tracing turns out much better than Flash's Convert Bitmap tool. This same technique works great for limited animation where only isolated portions of the figure moves. Below is the finished walk cycle at 12 fps.


Joe's blog said...

very interesting. thanks for sharing!

Mitchell Vizensky said...

This is an interesting technique. I usually just draw in flash but I agree the drawing tools in Flash are really crude. Ive seen allot of people master their line work with flash tools though. If only photoshop animation was as quick as flash. Its close but not quite. Maybe some day. Thanks for sharing Michael